The Movie The Imitation Game Delivers and Disappoints
I was drawn to this film because of my keen interest in history and technology. During WWII Germany created The Enigma machine that coded and then uncoded messages to their military machine around the world via radio signals. The communications carried intelligence and war strategy directions, and ultimately strike orders. This code was instrumental in giving Hitler a vast head start in his desire to overtake as much of the world as possible, and it was working.
Knowing that breaking the code was critical to winning the war, the British assembled a small group of cryptographers and mathematicians, tasking them to break the Enigma code in a small facility south of London. Among them was Professor Alan Turing, a brilliant but strange mathematician and puzzle prodigy.
The Imitation Game was directed by Morten Tyldum and based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges first published in 1983. The film does indeed tell the code-braking story, but it’s through the lens of Alan Turing who was the mastermind behind the effort and architect of the machine that did so. The choice to make Turning the central story element meant the filmmakers had to veer away from the military drama and focus their storytelling on the arc of Turing’s life.
Turing is played with fine control by Benedict Cumberbatch. He delivers on the challenging task of displaying clumsy genius. He is clear in his objectives, but those goals do not compute in any society. I think he has an outside chance of being nominated for an Academy Award.
In between the fascinating bits about how the project at Bletchley Park, camouflaged as a radio factory, we learn far too much about Turing’s painful and tortured life. He was clearly “on the spectrum.” In other words not a neurotypical (NT). He could not understand how people did not speak the words they meant, instead relying heavily on subtle body language and a secret code that sent the real messages.
This plagued Turing his entire life. That coupled with his homosexuality in a culture where it was illegal, he never had a chance to find a comfortable place in society.
The film’s characters are as expected. Turing’s team at Bletchley, the crusty Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) the head of Britain’s spy organization MI1, all fulfill their duty that leads to the success of the decoding project.
Keira Knightly plays Joan Clarke, a female with a math brain who answered a newspaper ad designed to attract puzzle solvers. Once she gets past the usual hurdles, Clarke becomes Turing’s muse (term used loosely) and contributes in meaningful ways to the project. It’s not a challenging role for Ms. Knightly, but without her, this film would be even harder to watch.
The best part of this picture is the crisp pacing of the film, which I believe is largely due to the great work by William Goldenberg (editor extraordinaire). He weaves three distinct phases of Turing’s life into a seamless montage that makes this a true biopic. The director, Mr. Tyldum, has worked extensively in television and that severely handicaps him here. There is repetitive use of static shots throughout and an uninspired camera. The result is disappointing. A huge story filmed in small format.
I can appreciate wanting to be true to the times and not overuse CGI, but in my opinion, this was an opportunity missed. This could and should be two films. One about the breaking of the code, and the other about Alan Turing.
The soundtrack was composed by Alexandre Desplat, who seems to write all film scores these days. It’s his usual outing, but this time he levels his tracks, which is diametrically opposed to Turing’s personality. No matter, I believe Mr. Desplat is a genius in supporting images with music. He regularly composes twice the number of pieces per film as almost anyone else in the business, except for perhaps Hans Zimmer.
A couple more comments. How can anyone make Keira Knightly look ordinary? And. Those Brits can really keep a secret.
The film’s official web site is, like most movie digital homes, a total mess. You learn nothing new about the movie or Turing, and are subjected to navigation that requires an Enigma Machine to decode.
Images from the film by Black Bear Pictures and Bristol Automotive
Enigma machine image found on Google images. Thank you interwebs